Punishing a cat versus deterring a cat humanely

Punishing a domestic cat and deterring a domestic cat can be one and the same thing but they can also be entirely different. I attempt to explain the difference here.

This topic is about the difference between punishment and what Dr. Bruce Fogle DVM calls "divine intervention". It's about deterring your cat from doing something without the cat associating the deterrence with their caregiver.

We know that punishing a cat is pointless because a cat does not have the mental capacity to understand the whole concept of punishment; a human process. For them, it is being harmed or made anxious because they are behaving normally. If you punish your cat by yelling at them or, God forbid, hitting them after they've done something that you don't like they will simply see you as a person to be avoided thereby breaking the bond which is so essential to a good relationship and which is the reason why you adopted a cat in the first place.

RELATED: Do ultrasonic cat deterrents work?

Image: RSPB

The way to deter a cat by invoking "divine intervention" is to ensure that your cat experiences something which is mildly unpleasant when they do something that you don't want them to do. And at the same time there is no linkage between that mild unpleasantness and you, the owner.

Cats learn from experience. So going right back to the time when they are kittens, if they try to do something and they suffer a bad experience because of it they will not try to do it again (normally).

Dr. Fogle provides two examples. You can put double sided tape on a kitchen counter which will be unpleasant when a cat jumps up on it. I don't like tinfoil on kitchen counters because that can terrify a cat which would not be "mildly unpleasant".

If you don't like your cat to jumping onto your bed, Dr. Fogle DVM suggests an infrared beam from a tiny burglar alarm that sets off a siren. The cat doesn't like the sound and escapes from the bedroom. Or your cat is about to scratch the sofa and silently gets a shot of water in their face from a water pistol. They don't see that you have the water pistol. It is divine intervention or an act of God as the veterinarian states.

The two most common divine intervention cat deterrents concern the backyard or back garden. One has a motion sensor which then sprays water onto the cat and the other is an ultrasonic device which sends out a high-pitched sound which deters the cat. They operate automatically and therefore they are true acts of God from the cat's perspective.

RELATED: 2 devices I would try first to keep cats out of your backyard plus alternatives.

These are just examples of ensuring that there is no connection between the unpleasantness and the owner. It is making a certain type of behaviour unpleasant, which will obviously be a deterrent.

Personally, I don't employ diving intervention because I allow my cat to do anything which he wants to do because it is natural for him to do it. I don't like imposing my will on him although occasionally I will restrict him doing something because it gets in the way of what I'm doing. That involves a polite signal and words that he understands.

Happy cat
Happy cat. The objective of all cat caregivers. Photo in public domain.

Of course, as mentioned, there are alternative ways to live with and manage your domestic cat companion. For example, not allowing your cat on your bed or even in the bedroom is, on the face of it, unkind because bedrooms are full of the scent of their owner. This is something that domestic cats love.

RELATED: How do I make my cat happy

It is reassuring to them. In a good human-cat relationship, cats relish the smells from their owner. To deprive them of this pleasure by banning them from the bedroom is, I would argue, bad cat caretaking. It's a personal decision but if you want to please your cat you will let them into the bedroom and onto the bed.

The same, as far as I'm concerned, applies to letting your cat jump up onto the kitchen counter. People disallow this because they think cats might spread disease but from my perspective humans spread as many diseases a cat but be let them use the kitchen counter. The "banning from kitchen counter" policy doesn't make sense to me.

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